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Man’s best friend: Abigail the Irish Setter

By Hannah Russell, For The Miami Student

The minute someone meets Abigail, they know why her name means "brings joy" in Gaelic.

Abigail - Abby to her friends - greets everyone with her tail wagging and her ears perked up, looking up with a sweet, docile smile.

Abigail is a 7-year-old Irish red and white setter that has been working as a therapy dog for about two years. Every Monday between 2 and 3 p.m. she can be found at the Miami University Student Counseling Service, along with her colleague Sugar and her trainer Mary O'Leary.

"I have setters because they're so loving," O'Leary said. "That's why they make good therapy dogs."

O'Leary has been training therapy dogs for 30 years. She began the therapy dog program at Miami back in 2007, with her other Irish red and white, Sugar.

The program was inspired by Sugar's success as a reading dog at Lane Library, where children read to Sugar as a fun, judgment-free way to practice their skills.

Senior Christine Ostrosky recently met Abigail at a therapy dog event for midterm stress-relief.

"She is so gosh darn cute!" Ostrosky said, stroking Abigail's coat.

Ostrosky is one of the between five and 15 students who visit the Student Counseling Service weekly to see its therapy dogs. The program was introduced to provide a way to ease stress for students.

Sugar is Miami's original therapy dog and was Abigail's mentor during her trial period at the Counseling Services.

Beginning two years ago, Sugar and Abigail became a team, visiting the Counseling Services weekly and making special trips during exam times.

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"See, Abby is silky and Sugar is soft," said O'Leary with a chuckle. "I bring the tactile dogs."

Abigail is a former international champion show dog and house pet turned certified therapy dog. When O'Leary found her, she was still a house pet and show dog, but her family had recently had a baby and they were worried about how Abigail and the baby would get along.

The family decided to give Abigail away and O'Leary found her on a rescue site for purebreds. O'Leary said Abigail loves children and gets along with them very well.

Since completing her training, Abigail has received certification from Therapy Dogs International, which is a volunteer organization dedicated to regulating, testing and registration of therapy dogs and their volunteer handlers, according to a representative of the group.

All dogs registered with TDI must pass the evaluation by the TDI Evaluator, but the organization doesn't require any other specific training. The primary requirement for therapy dogs is a sweet and calm temperament.

"Any dog can be a therapy dog," O'Leary said. "It all depends on temperament."

Abigiail's happy-go-lucky attitude has made her popular with the students. She and O'Leary have made over 50 trips to campus. Sophomore, Terra Collier, met Abby first-hand.

"Abigail is so sweet. She's a nice break from all the stress of thinking about my future and college and all of that," Collier said.